Viva Columbus County
Trainer Fownes and jockey Purton believe the horse has a bright future
Columbus County struck a blow for jockey Zac Purton and this year's BMW Hong Kong Derby crop with a victory full of promise in the Class 2 Hong Kong Reunification Cup Handicap over 1,800m at Sha Tin on Wednesday.
Purton saw title rival Joao Moreira bag a brace that ate into his championship lead in the first half of the card.
But he hit back in the feature to hold an advantage of 138 wins to the Brazilian's 133.
"Zac and Joao both ride a lot of horses for me and I wish them both the best," said Columbus County's trainer, Caspar Fownes.
"Right now, Zac has the advantage, especially with Joao having a one-meeting suspension coming up next week. But Hong Kong racing is so tough that for both of them to get the number of winners they've achieved so far is incredible.
"I wish both of them the best. Hopefully, it can go down to the last day and may the best man win."
Columbus County belatedly broke his Hong Kong maiden at the seventh attempt, having performed a shade disappointingly when ninth to Golden Sixty in the BMW Hong Kong Derby in March.
Fownes' four-year-old is only the second horse out of the blue riband to have won a race subsequently. But both handler and rider hold positive expectations for the future.
"He's typical of PPs (Privately Purchased horses) coming here on a high rating, they take a bit of time to acclimatise sometimes," noted Purton.
"He didn't quite measure up in the Derby, but he had a nice little break and seems to have come back better. He still feels like hasn't developed properly, so I think there's more there."
Fownes echoed the three-time champion jockey's assessment of the New Zealand import, who ran third in the Group 2 Waikato Guineas over 2,000m when known as Sword In Stone.
"Going forward, this horse, probably next calendar year, we'll start to see better things from him," said the trainer.
"I think he's a horse that's going to get to a 110 rating, and he'll get even further in distance. He's a nice horse and, if he can put on another 40 or 50 pounds (18.1kg to 22.7kg) in bodyweight, then he'll be well-suited to Hong Kong.
"He's been good and raced consistently all season, and I'm sure the summer break will help him a lot to develop further." -HKJC